Marvel has figured it out. They know precisely the tone they want their films to have, and they strike their chord with masterful precision time and again. For those who like their comic book movies breezy, action packed, and, y’know, FUN (i.e. fans of The Avengers and Iron Man 3), I’m overjoyed to report that Thor: The Dark World is cut from the same cloth. New director Alan Taylor must have been like a child in a sandbox full of toys, as he fleshes out Asgard, Thor’s family and friends, and the Nine Realms with zeal and humor. This may in fact have more jokes per minute than any Marvel film to date, something fans of the first may be surprised to hear. Yet despite all the laughs and the big-time action sequences, the characters shine through. Hemsworth and Hiddleston continue to be terrific as Thor and Loki; they’re the beating heart of this extravaganza. Marvel hit a grand slam with The Avengers and nailed Iron Man 3, so I expect that there will inevitably be a film that drops in quality. This isn’t it: Thor: The Dark World is great fun.
Before the universe was given light, The Dark Elves ruled all. Once light found its way into the Nine Realms, the Dark Elves, commanded by Malekith, vowed to cast the Nine Realms back into darkness, using a weapon called the Aether. Odin’s father, however, led the Asgardians into battle, defeating the Dark Elves and hiding the Aether where no one would find it again… but Malekith escaped. Flash forward to present day: while looking for her flame/god-boyfriend Thor (Hemsworth), Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) finds some gravitational anomalies– one of which, unfortunately for her, leads her directly to the Aether. When discovered, it awakens Malekith, who is revitalized. Thor takes Foster to Asgard, where Odin (Anthony Hopkins) disapproves any human step foot. However, with Foster tied to the Aether, and Malekith on the prowl, the Asgardians have bigger fish to fry. And to defeat Malekith again, Thor may just have to employ the help of his evil brother, Loki (Hiddleston), who seems destined to betray him at any turn.
The first Thor, shouldering the origin story burden, has little action of consequence and bores every moment Thor is on Earth. There just isn’t nearly enough magic and/or godly behavior. Alan Taylor apparently agrees with me, as this film starts with magic on Earth, kicks into high gear early on, and never lets up. It also doesn’t take the gritty “dark” route (as I was afraid by the subject matter it may): there’s no shortage of one-liners and surprisingly clever moments. One scene involving Loki and a famous cameo made my audience erupt into applause mid-film. It’s not without its consequences: characters we love die and/or are changed forever, and the humor doesn’t really detract from the stakes, emotionally or otherwise. There’s a funeral sequence that I found surprisingly stirring. Here’s where Taylor is at his best: presenting us with lush visuals in a fantasy world (he’s done this on Game of Thrones for a few seasons now) accompanied by Kevin Tyler’s rousing score.
Taylor’s Game of Thrones experience also helps him never lose sight of the characters. Each character has at least one moment in the sun: from Jamie Alexander’s Sif to Ray Stevenson’s Volstagg, from Idris Elba’s Heimdall to Rene Russo’s Frigga, and even newcomer Zachary Levi as Fandral gets a scene or two of badassery. The villain is a very simplistic destroy-the-universe type, but the action he sets off and some of the weapons these Dark Elves tote are pretty terrific. They also somehow build with each action sequence… which, considering the first big Dark Elves attack once you see it, is a tremendous feat. The final battle is one of the more visually witty finales you’re likely to ever see in a comic book film; the set-up was so clever that once I realized what was about to happen, a giant grin spread across my face. As Thor and Malekith tear at each other in such an inventive fashion, I was reduced to child-like wonder. This is going to be so many little boys’ new favorite film (and, judging by the reactions to Thor and Loki by the female contingent in my theater, the opposite gender will find no complaints). This film is non-stop fun, from the action to the jokes, from the lovable characters to the terrifically-built worlds. In short, it’s the type of movie Marvel has mastered. Well-done, folks: Thor: The Dark World is another impressive gem to place in your gauntlet.